Writer/director Sean Ellis’s werewolf movie The Cursed, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival under the (far superior) title Eight for Silver, begins rather unassumingly for a period horror movie: we’re thrown into the trenches of the First World War, as a cloud of mustard gas descends upon a crowd of French troops. One of the soldiers is taken to a field hospital where his wounds are attended to, and a bullet is pulled from his chest curiously not of German make or model.
We’re left to puzzle this out-of-context question as we’re taken back twenty-five years to rural France, as the property of land baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) is occupied by a non-threatening Romani clan who purports to have a claim to the land as well. Laurent mercilessly slaughters them, unknowingly unleashing a curse on his family and their village.
On the surface, it may seem like The Cursed falls into the p(l)othole of using a stereotypical “gypsy curse” as a method of conveying the horror promised by the title, but the actual ‘curse’ element isn’t as much of a plot device as it would have been had this movie been made fifteen years ago. Sure, the mythology gets a little muddy and confusing (sidelined in favor of cheap but effective jump scares), but that’s not the focus of the story — that belongs to the village, and how everyone is actually affected by the curse.
As townspeople start to be picked off by some sort of wild animal, the shows its true colors (and its teeth). Boyd Holbrook plays pathologist John McBride, who arrives in town with vital knowledge at just the right time. Around this time, The Cursed becomes a full-fledged horror movie, and I appreciate and respect its willingness to just go for it, despite most of the scares being somewhat nonsensical.
It’s the fact that the horror is done so well that this film is entirely effective. The atmosphere is chilling, and any character could be directly affected at any moment. There is a crowded cast of characters, but even as new ones pop up and old ones drop, you’re still not sure exactly where the story is going. Anything completely unpredictable could happen at any point, and it always fits the narrative.
The Cursed packs a strong punch on multiple counts, including as a genuinely scary horror movie (don’t watch it at night), a tense period piece and one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen in years. And yes, I promise, the World War I storyline does come back into play.
The Cursed is in theaters now.
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